To reveal the annual patterns of planktonic ciliate communities, planktonic ciliate species composition, abundance and biomass, and responses to environmental conditions, were investigated during an annual cycle in Jiaozhou Bay, Qingdao, northern China. A total of 64 species belonging to five orders (Oligotrichida, Haptorida, Cyrtophorida, Hypotrichida and Tintinnida) were identified, 9 of which were dominant. Ciliate communities presented a clear seasonal pattern in terms of both abundance and biomass. A single peak of ciliate abundance and biomass occurred in late August, mainly due to the oligotrichids, tintinnids and haptorids. The 9 dominant species showed a distinct temporal distribution with seasonal successions of ciliate communities. Multivariate analyses revealed that ciliate abundance was significantly correlated with water temperature, dissolved oxygen and nutrients, especially nitrate nitrogen and soluble reactive phosphate (P < 0.05). These findings provided basic data on annual cycle of planktonic ciliate communities in a semi-enclosed bay of Yellow Sea, northern China.